Book: 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt
Genre: Writing book
Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books
Publication date: 2001
Summary: After explaining the notion of archetypes and why they are useful to writers, 45 Master Characters explains 7 female and 7 male character types related to ancient gods and goddesses. For each type there is a positive side and a shadow aspect. Each type includes a description and a number of questions and ideas for the writer to use to develop the arc of a character of that type. Following the sections for main characters there is a section for supporting characters of both genders. The final section plots archetypal feminine and masculine journeys with examples from ancient myths and classic and modern movies and books.
Thoughts: When I wrote about The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler (Book Review: The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler), I mentioned that I was looking at a couple of books that might do a better job of examining the feminine journey in a story.
The first book I looked at, and have looked at several times in the past, was The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdoch. That book has never been that helpful to me when plotting stories for the very good reason that it isn’t meant to be a writing book. It’s a book for women and their therapists about the feminine journey in modern life — most useful, I imagine, at times of disruption like getting married, achieving career success, or experiencing empty nest syndrome. Except for a story that follows a woman from cradle to grave, I don’t see this as being that useful for writers even though The Writer’s Journey and other sources mention it for that purpose.
Better for plotting purposes, I found, was the feminine journey part of Section V of 45 Master Characters, “The Feminine and Masculine Journeys.” This follows the ancient myth of the Descent of the goddess Inanna, a story I studied years ago and felt at the time had archetypal possibilities for stories featuring women. Since I never got around to working that out, I’m grateful that Victoria Lynn Schmidt did and published it in this book.
Although this is the first time that I’ve read this book cover to cover, I’ve owned it for years and used it a lot. The archetypal models for creating characters have been a very useful approach for me. They are simple enough to make characters memorable and complicated enough to keep them from being like every other character. My first attempt at characters is to make them all a variation of me. 45 Master Characters helps me step away from myself and create characters with depth and diversity.
Now that I also have a better understanding of the plotting possibilities in the archetypal journeys, I’m able to challenge my characters with more interesting barriers and create more interesting stories.
Appeal: For writers of fiction. I also recently made good use of this book for a creative nonfiction project that needs to read like a good story.
What books help you create well-rounded believable characters and engaging plots for them to play with?